Lewisville scrim­maged a team of ju­ve­nile in­mates

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Front Page - BY BRET MCCORMICK bm­c­cormick@her­al­don­line.com

The bus ar­rived in the park­ing lot and the Lewisville Lions’ boys bas­ket­ball team un­loaded. This could have been any pre­sea­son scrim­mage for the team.

Ex­cept, af­ter park­ing, the Lions left all their be­long­ings be­hind on the bus and boarded a dif­fer­ent one. They drove through the dark, through a fence topped with barbed wire and into the Bir­ch­wood Cam­pus. They were searched. When they even­tu­ally walked into the school’s gym, they were greeted by a team un­like any other in South Carolina, the teenage in­mates of the state’s largest ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion cen­ter.

Lewisville se­nior To­rian Ed- wards had heard about Bir­ch­wood, lo­cated in Columbia, but he had never been there. His father, D’An­gelo, is the prin­ci­pal, over­see­ing about 120 stu­dents.

D’An­gelo Ed­wards was one of the cat­a­lysts for this bas­ket­ball game be­tween the Lions and a dozen or so of the Depart­ment

of Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice’s in­mates. Church league teams oc­ca­sion­ally come to Bir­ch­wood for games, but Wed­nes­day’s con­test against Lewisville was the first time a pub­lic high school had come to play.

“I try to do some­thing ev­ery year with the bas­ket­ball team that’s out­side of the box,” said Lewisville coach Michael McCray, who works in the Meck­len­burg County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment. “When (Ed­wards) pre­sented that to me, I was like, ‘yes. Why not?’ ”

You bet­ter be­lieve that Lewisville’s play­ers were un­sure of what they would en­counter when they walked into the Bir­ch­wood gym.

“I ex­pected a lot of phys­i­cal play, trash talk,” said Lewisville se­nior Mau­rice Grant. “They tried to in­tim­i­date us, yelling and clap­ping when we walked through the door.”

That would hap­pen in most gyms, though.

The game pro­ceeded. Once both sides got their com­pet­i­tive juices pump­ing, re­al­ized this was a bas­ket­ball game and not an al­ley fight or court ap­pear­ance, it felt like a nor­mal oc­ca­sion. There were hard fouls, play­ers on both teams div­ing on the floor in a non-air con­di­tioned gym, each team had on uni­forms. Nor­mal, right?

“It was like go­ing to an­other school,” said To­rian Ed­wards. “Ex­cept they just don’t get to go home.”

It was nor­mal un­til the game ended. That’s when the two groups sat down on chairs and bleach­ers and talked about their very dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties for al­most 30 min­utes. More than work­ing on of­fen­sive sets, this was the part of the ex­pe­ri­ence they won’t for­get.

The Bir­ch­wood kids shared sto­ries of how they ended up in ju­ve­nile prison, stuck on their gym’s per­ma­nent home team. The fa­cil­ity houses re­peat of­fend­ers and kids that com­mit­ted se­ri­ous crimes, in­clud­ing one who played Wed­nes­day that had been in­volved with a triple mur­der. He calmly re­called the cir­cum­stances that led him to a life-al­ter­ing, and life-end­ing, de­ci­sion. It jarred Ed­wards, the Lewisville player, to see kids the same age as him in such se­ri­ous trou­ble.

“We make the same de­ci­sions they make ev­ery day,” he said. “I could be in the same place they’re in.”

D’An­gelo Ed­wards said the Bir­ch­wood bas­ket­ball team has been an im­por­tant car­rot for some of the ju­ve­nile in­mates be­cause many of them strug­gle to reg­u­late their emo­tions and be­hav­ior, or don’t re­spect au­thor­ity fig­ures and work well in team set­tings. Only the best­be­haved Bir­ch­wood kids get to play on coach Ted Bland­ing’s team.

The Lewisville play­ers talked about their own lives. Bir­ch­wood’s as­so­ciate deputy of in­sti­tu­tional pro­gram­ming, Andy Broughton, said their visit bright­ened his kids’ lives, even if only for a cou­ple hours. Af­ter so many nights play­ing in the steamy gym against each other, the Bir­ch­wood boys were ex­cited to face dif­fer­ent com­pe­ti­tion. Af­ter Lewisville’s visit, Broughton thinks ef­forts will be made to bring more high school teams to the cam­pus in the fu­ture.

“To me it’s in­spir­ing to watch our kids, who tend to be thought of as out­casts, com­ing to­gether, work­ing to­gether as a team,” he said. “It was touch­ing, to me, to watch them, even though they were not win­ning, to play as hard as they could.”

As for the Lewisville guys, they were happy to leave when the night was over, but their eyes also widened by what they had seen and heard.

The two big­gest things Grant took from the ex­pe­ri­ence: “keep my head right and en­joy my free­dom.”

And re­main on the vis­it­ing team.

Photo cour­tesy of Andy Broughton

Lewisville bas­ket­ball play­ers greet coun­ter­parts from the Bir­ch­wood School, which is part of the Depart­ment of Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice. Lewisville scrim­maged Bir­ch­wood School’s bas­ket­ball team, which con­sists of ju­ve­nile in­mates, down in Columbia.

Photo cour­tesy of Andy Broughton

Bas­ket­ball play­ers from Lewisville High School and the Bir­ch­wood School talked about their lives af­ter a scrim­mage on Wed­nes­day. The Bir­ch­wood School is part of South Carolina’s Depart­ment of Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice.

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